When NAHJ sent an April 16 email announcing the board had voted to cancel elections “to temporarily limit any unnecessary radical change in the interest of preserving a strong and effective organizational foundation,” the decision was met with dismay by a multitude of its members.
After some discussion, a group that includes several former NAHJ national presidents*, founders, Hall of Fame inductees, lifetime and other members, concerned about the decision, sent a letter to the board requesting it restore the 2020 elections, as stipulated in the organization’s bylaws.
The group also launched a petition for other NAHJ members, who agree elections must take place, to sign and express their concerns.
After receipt of the letter, current NAHJ president Hugo Balta, whose term expires this year, and according to the bylaws cannot be extended, told former NAHJ VP of Print Marilyn Garateix, that the board would reconvene in the coming week to reconsider their decision regarding the 2020 elections.
He said the board would meet in executive session, which means that any discussion taking place would be confidential, and the minutes would not be available to the members.
While the group acknowledges the board’s work in navigating the difficulties arising from the pandemic, including the transition of the annual in-person conference to a virtual event, there are no grounds for the elections not to take place, particularly, since the membership has been able to vote electronically for several years.
* I am one of the former presidents who are requesting the elections be restored.
Below is the open letter sent to the NAHJ board, which also appears in the online petition:
April 23, 2020
An open letter to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists Board of Directors
First, we would like to thank you for your service to NAHJ. We realize it can be challenging to serve on the board while balancing other professional and personal responsibilities, especially in the midst of the current health crisis. Your dedication makes this a difficult letter to write but one we feel is important and necessary.
On April 16, the NAHJ board announced, in a press release posted on NAHJ.org, that it had voted to cancel national board elections and extend, for another year, the terms of board members, including those of the president and the rest of the executive board. This move encompassed both elected and appointed board members.
According to the press release, “the board voted to temporarily limit any unnecessary radical change in the interest of preserving a strong and effective organizational foundation.” The release went on to say that “each election cycle takes a financial toll on the organization…”
As NAHJ members, we strongly disagree with the decision to cancel elections. We respectfully request the board reconsider its decision because:
1) This action violates NAHJ bylaws. The board of directors is not empowered by its bylaws or the non-profit laws of the District of Columbia, in which NAHJ is incorporated, to take this action. In addition, the bylaws clearly set term limits for all board positions. It is astonishing that the legally required exercise of members’ rights to vote and choose its next slate of leaders, even in the current crisis, is considered either “unnecessary” or “radical.”
2) NAHJ’s bylaws already preserve continuity. The “preservation of a strong foundation” is anticipated in our bylaws: the outgoing president continues to serve for one year in an advisory capacity, and fully half the board members remain in office regardless of the election outcome because the terms are staggered. In addition, NAHJ’s stellar staff aids in preserving continuity.
3) NAHJ has used electronic voting: The NAHJ bylaws lay out a process for this:
V.12. Action by Ballot. (a) Voting by Ballot. Any action that may be taken at an annual or special meeting of members may be taken without a meeting if the Association delivers a ballot to each member entitled to vote on the matter. Voting may be by paper ballot or by any secure method of electronic balloting selected by the Board of Directors.
4) NAHJ members should have a say. By the board’s own admission, this was a historic decision, one that left out the voices of the people NAHJ was created to serve: its members. Polling, debate and discussion are the hallmarks of a democracy. The willingness of current board members to continue serving is admirable, but it cannot replace the membership’s approval of that decision expressed in an election.
5) Our profession demands transparency. We should be doing the same with NAHJ’s critical proposals and decisions. Who proposed cancelling the election? Was a delay or other options discussed? What was the vote? Declaring the election too expensive without providing numbers is, to be charitable, less than transparent. At the very least, NAHJ should let members know how much the association will save by canceling the election, and why that is preferable than adhering to our bylaws.
6) Elections are sacred, canceling them sets a bad precedent. More than 70 countries have postponed elections by a few months, still, many others have held elections, We understand it is a time of uncertainty but NAHJ board members voting to extend their own terms is a blatant conflict of interest, and smacks of the kinds of authoritarian maneuvers that take place in the countries our members cover.
Elections are an important part of NAHJ’s core mission, therefore, we the undersigned below urge the board of directors of NAHJ to:
* Abide by and uphold NAHJ’s bylaws and the rights of members to vote.
* Immediately re-launch the election process establishing a new timeline that requires elections to be held no later than September/October.
* Follow the bylaws that allow for secure electronic voting.
* Keep the membership better informed about elections, offering details and information that goes beyond a simple press release.
36 Lifetime Members, 14 former board members; 13 Hall of Fame recipients; 12 Members (including student project leaders); 7 former presidents, 3 founders.
1) Rebecca Aguilar, former board member
2) Rogelio Aranda, Lifetime
3) Elaine Ayala, Lifetime, Hall of Fame (2019)
4) Rose Arce, Lifetime, former board member
5) Gilbert Bailon, Lifetime, former president, Hall of Fame (2013)
6) David Cazares, Lifetime
7) Dino Chiecchi, Lifetime, former president, Hall of Fame (2017)
8) Ivette Davila-Richards, Lifetime, former board member
9) Manny De la Rosa, Lifetime, former board member
10) Johnny Diaz, Member, Student projects
11) Sam Diaz, Lifetime
12) Victor Escobedo, Lifetime
13) Cathleen Farrell, Lifetime
14) Diana Fuentes, Lifetime, former board member
15) Marilyn Garateix, Lifetime, former board member
16) Maira Garcia, Member
17) Veronica Garcia, Lifetime, former board member
18) David Gonzalez, Hall of Fame (2013)
19) Juan Gonzalez, Foudner, Lifetime, Hall of Fame
19) Felix Gutierrez, Founder, Lifetime, Hall of Fame (2002)
20) Evelyn Hernandez, Lifetime, former president
21) Jodi Hernandez, Lifetime, Student projects, Hall of Fame (2017)
22) Nicole Hernandez, Member
23) Jonathan Higuera, Lifetime, former board member
24) Maria Hinojosa, Member & Award winner
25) Nora Lopez, former board member
26) Rafael Lorente, Member
27) Patricia Mazzei, Member
28) Mekahlo Medina, Lifetime, former president
29) Regina Medina, Lifetime, former board member
30) Rafael Olmeda, Lifetime, former president
31) Jesus Ortiz, Member
32) Maria Padilla, Lifetime
33) Miguel Perez, Hall of Fame (2015)
34) David Plazas, Lifetime, Student projects
35) John Quiñones, Lifetime
36) Pedro Rafael Rosado, Member
37) Maggie Rivas-Rodriguez, Founder, Lifetime, Hall of Fame (2008, 2014)
38) Monica Rhor, Member, Student projects
39) Diego Ribadeneira, Lifetime, Student projects
40) Ray Ruiz, Member
41) Miguel Rosa, Lifetime
42) Albor Ruiz, Lifetime, former board member, Hall of Fame (2003)
43) Frances Robles, Lifetime, former board member, Hall of Fame (2015)
44) Michele Salcedo, Lifetime, former president
45) Ray Suarez, Lifetime, Hall of Fame (2010)
46) Carolyn Salazar, Member, Student projects
47) Roberto Santiago, Lifetime
48) Cristina Silva, Member, Student projects
49) Ernie Sotomayor, Lifetime, former board member, Hall of Fame (2011)
50) Frank O. Sotomayor, Lifetime, Hall of Fame, (2002)
51) Evelyn Tipacti, Lifetime
52) Veronica Villafañe, Lifetime, former president, Hall of Fame (2016)
53) Elizabeth Zavala, Lifetime, former board member